Rolls-Royce Advanced Blade Casting Facility

Precision and innovation: building for the manufacturing revival

Rolls-Royce is an iconic power systems company that’s been providing power for aircraft, ships and land applications for over a hundred years.

Its vision is to provide "better power for a changing world".

Nowadays, the company is best known for its aero engines; precision machines that have to be faultlessly reliable.

A key component of every jet engine is the high-pressure turbine blades. Revolving at incredible speeds, in the very heart of the engine, these have to withstand the most extreme temperatures and forces, so they’re crucial to the company’s success.

Project details

  • Customer: Rolls-Royce plc
  • Main Contractor: BAM Construction
  • Architect: Bond Bryan
  • Project Manager: Turner & Townsend
  • Quantity Surveyor: Turner & Townsend
  • Structural Engineer: Buro Happold
  • Services Engineer: Silcock Leedham Consulting Engineers Ltd
  • Value: £24.6 million

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+/-0.2mm Fact icon tolerances govern the casting of these advanced alloy blades
BREEAM Fact icon very good rating being targeted for the building
150 Fact icon people work at the plant, many of them local
100,000 Fact icon blades a year are produced at the facility

Cutting-edge engineering

Creating such high-tech elements demands equally high-tech manufacturing facilities. In 2012, BAM started work on the company’s new Advanced Blade Casting Facility (ABCF) in Rotherham, handing over the completed building in 2014.

The region is rich in skills and expertise, both in precision manufacturing and materials research. At the heart of Yorkshire’s Advanced Manufacturing Park, the factory is one of a number of cutting edge industrial plants to locate in the Sheffield City Regional Enterprise Zone.

Rolls-Royce turned to BAM to deliver a flagship building that reflects Britain’s world-class capabilities in the aerospace sector.

The gently curving roofline of this understated structure echoes the blades being manufactured inside, while its sleek, futuristic lines embody the Rolls-Royce corporate identity.

As befits this technology-led project, BAM used state-of-the-art 3D modelling software to design, plan and manage the development.

BAM Construct UK CEO James Wimpenny (Regional Director for the company’s North East division during the construction process) explains why this was so crucial: “The Building Information Modelling technology is exciting, as it allows our engineers to predict challenges and build in solutions.”

Leading an industrial renaissance

The new Blade Casting Facility concentrates on producing components for large civil airline engines. It has created valuable local jobs, most of them requiring high levels of skill.

There are 182 turbine blades in each of the company’s Trent XWB jet engines: every one effectively a single crystal structure, cast into a wax mold under controlled conditions from nickel alloy. The finished blade – with the addition of a heat-resistant ceramic coating – features a series of precisely located holes for air cooling.

Each blade is just 10cm tall and weighs 300g: a tiny, complex work of precision art. The manufacturing process involves some 200 steps from start to finish.

That means quality control is vital. At the ABCF, 3D structured light inspection is used to measure the entire surface of each component, while computed tomography (CT) scanning checks all the internal structures.

Jewel in the high-tech crown

At the opening of the new building, Business Minister Matthew Hancock described it as “the most advanced blade casting facility in the world and… a truly remarkable feat of engineering”.  

For BAM, this is just one of a growing number of projects in the high-tech sector, where meticulous quality, great design and sustainability are top of the agenda.